The Big 12 university presidents concluded on Monday that they will not be adding any new members, ending a three-month expansion exploration with a decision that the league is better off with its current 10 members for now.
The Big 12 presidents met in Dallas for a working dinner Sunday night and for a six-hour meeting on Monday. Their conclusion was not a surprise. Sports Illustrated indicated on Friday that the league would focus on getting more money from its television partners instead of adding schools and agitating the TV partners. The Big 12 will not definitively shut the door on potential expansion until striking a deal with its television partners.
Nonetheless, this marks the end—for now anyway—of a protracted and public three-month period in which the league engaged with 20 potential schools, interviewed 11 of them and concluded at the end it was best off with no new members.
Two events shifted the tenor of expansion exploration. The first came in early August when FoxSports.com wrote an article indicating the potential backlash from the LGBT community against BYU if the Cougars were admitted. BYU was the prohibitive favorite to join the league, and when it became politically untenable to take the school, which is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the entire tenor of expansion changed.
The inability to add BYU then cooled the expansion enthusiasm of Oklahoma president David Boren. Boren had long favored expansion and publicly pushed the league to pursue it, even calling the Big 12 “psychologically disadvantaged” in its current 10-member state. Boren’s public comments in mid-September that the conference wasn’t guaranteed to expand basically foreshadowed the league coming to this conclusion.
The thought among league officials and athletic directors is that they are better off taking more money and staying in their current form than expanding. The addition of a conference championship game to the Big 12’s television contract essentially opens a window for the league’s TV partners, ESPN and Fox, to construct a new contract that would include more money for the current schools. Neither ESPN nor Fox was pleased that the Big 12 was going to use the pro rata clause in its current deal to get an additional $25 million per school.
The conclusion to not expand allows the league to potentially get more revenue and eliminate the pro rata clause from the television deal. While ESPN or Fox are not eager to pay more money, the elimination of the pro rata clause would eliminate the potential headache of the threat of expansion every year until the contract expires in 2025. Without the pro rata clause, it’s unlikely any school the Big 12 might add could command the nearly $25 million per school the conference currently receives from its television partners.